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Painkiller Abuse Develops Predisposition for Lifetime Addiction in the Youth

A new study discovered that the brain can be conditioned to develop a predisposition for drug addiction. Researchers from the Rockefeller University found that adolescent brains that were subjected to the painkiller Oxycontin can experience lasting changes to their reward system. These properties enhance the euphoric effects of the drug so that users are more apt to grow addicted to drugs later in life.

This particular research is the first of its kind in that it was aimed at comparing dopamine levels in adolescent mice as a result of being subjected to the painkiller. The study was conducted by Mary Jeanne Kreek, head of the Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases, and her colleagues.

The study found that younger mice were apt to take Oxycontin less frequently than the older ones which manifest more sensitive reactions to the drug’s rewarding effects. Even in lower doses, the adolescent mice exhibited higher dopamine levels in their brain as compared to adult mice who were newly subjected to the medication.

Kreek says that the findings suggest the young people who abuse painkillers are already conditioning their brains for drug addiction if they get subjected to opiates later in their lives. “The neurobiological changes seem to sensitize the brain to the drug’s powerfully rewarding properties.”

The brain is subjected to many monumental changes during an individual’s adolescent years. The reward pathway, for one, tends to produce more dopamine receptors. This will continue on until mid-adolescence when production slowly falls or the receptors also die off. Abusing painkillers at this time in their lives can trick the brain into keeping more than enough receptors in this area. The euphoria and addictive effects of drugs become more pronounced later in adulthood because of this.

The use of Oxycontin and Vicodin has become a cause for concern in the recent years. Abuse of these painkillers was particularly common among adolescents and young adults. According to recent studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 11 percent of individuals aged 12 and older have admitted to using prescription painkillers. “Despite the early use of these drugs in young people, little is known about how they differentially affect adolescent brains undergoing developmental change,” Kreek concludes. “These findings gives us a new perspective from which to develop better strategies for prevention and therapy.”

Learn more about the latest in drug addiction research here at Miramar Recovery Center.

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